October 6 2001, Old Trafford. Surely the loudest noise an English World Cup qualifying goal has been greeted with after David Beckham’s stunning free-kick went in against Greece, sending the Three Lions on their way to the 2002 World Cup.
The footage is quite remarkable, if you’ve ever had the chance to see it. Such was the noise and movement of the fans that the cameras shake, and you can barely hear any commentators that were at that game.
Contrast that with the relieved, humorous cheers for Harry Kane’s last-minute winner against Slovenia to take England to Russia 2018.
Of course, the circumstances were different. Beckham’s was in the final game, and it was a fantastic free-kick. Kane’s was not and has come just over a year after a diabolical defeat to Iceland, which has left many fans disillusioned with the international game.
But there’s another, more stark difference that also helps to explain the feelings of the fans.
The empty, miserable feel of Wembley Stadium.
I live in London. I should be the first person defending England playing at Wembley and why not, when it’s a new, fantastically modern stadium with superb travel links, a grand capacity and, when it’s rocking, a decent atmosphere.
But has this new Wembley ever been rocking for an international match?
English MPs have called for unsold England tickets to go to schools and clubs. Whilst that is a lovely idea in theory, in practice, it’s difficult to see it being that successful.
There were 35,000 unbought tickets for England’s game against Slovenia. 35,000 schoolchildren at the football is a simply impossible prospect.
One of the most interesting lines to come out of the petition from Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan was, “for many young people across the country, seeing England play live at Wembley is a distant dream.”
Children have school. There is no way a young boy or girl from Newcastle is going to trek to Wembley for a midweek game.
It’s time for England to start moving around the country.
Last year The Etihad Stadium and Stadium of Light were sold out for England’s games against Turkey and Australia respectively as they warmed up for those fateful Euros with two 2-1 victories.
Despite pretty underwhelming performances in both games, England were cheered on loudly and proudly by a group of fans who, in all likelihood, were previously more likely to see them away from home.
And, of course, despite these seats already selling out anyway, room could be made for schoolchildren or community clubs to enjoy watching England too.
It just feels like England are becoming the most soulless international team in world football and it’s about time football was brought to the fans so they could actually find some passion for their national team.
If it goes on like this, and England once again fall miles short of people’s ludicrously high expectations at Russia 2018, the excitement will diminish to the point where free tickets for schoolchildren will not be appealing to youngsters.
Something needs to be done.
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena